Karel Ancerl Editon 15 Supraphon SU 3675-2 001, 61:00 (Distrib. Qualiton) ****:
The late Karel Ancerl (1908-1973) had been with the Czech Philharmonic eight years when he inscribed the Brahms D Minor Concerto 3-4 February 1958 with Hanover pianist Erik Then-Bergh (1916-1982). Then-Bergh remains notable for a mere handful of recordings, including some Mozart with Abendroth and Then-Bergh’s most famous recording, the F Minor Piano Concerto of Max Reger under Rosbaud. A strong-handed technique marks Then-Bergh, along with a fine capacity for poetry. Ancerl demarcates a noble and assertive Maestoso movement, clearly presenting the pesant five-note motif so that when it is recalled for the recapitulation in the strings under the piano, our sense of architecture is fulfilled. The singularity of tone and affect makes this piece a “baroque” symphony with piano obbligato. Nice interplay between viola, horns, and piano, then the distant tympani in anticipation of the extended coda. Solid block chords and resonant staccati in the keyboard move us along with a symphonic sea of sound to an emotional cataclysm.
The religious intensity of the Adagio finds sympathy in both soloist and conductor, who adopt a very broad, slow tempo. Lugubrious depths from the Czech Philharmonic basses and low bassoons. Even the glittering chords in the middle do not distract us from the general tenor of an organ chorale. The searching, almost static, quality of the piano solos bestows on the Adagio an improvisatory character, although the viola entries and tympani at the coda suggest an epiphany. The Rondo follows Mozart’s lead and moves from minor to major tonality, by way of fierce syncopations and contrapuntal dexterity. Then-Bergh adds a deliberate “snap” to his playing, a bit of ritard on the first or second beat, that adds a bit of emotionality. Soft, creamy strings from the CPO which do not undermine the dark sarcasm of the intricate, polyphonic variations. A passionate first cadenza with strong trills leads into the major tonality, the French horns and winds lulling us into a march figure in homage of Schumann. Then the second cadenza,Then-Bergh’s graduating his effects for a grand peroration. Spirited, heated Brahms on a large scale, old-school style.
The D Minor Tragic Overture dates from 2 October 1963. Granite blocks of sound, lingering figures in the oboe and horns. Heroic, contrapuntally elegant, the music proceeds with solemn dignity and melodic pathos. Nice flute work from the CPO. Ancerl satisfies the composer’s “penchant for melancholy” without exaggerating or distorting the musical lines, a performance of girth and force without tears.
— Gary Lemco